Seven months after Julie Christensen lost her political post in November, the former supervisor is hoping to land a new job to continue to serve the public.
But there was a catch: the position runs afoul of The City’s ethics laws.
Christensen, who Mayor Ed Lee appointed to the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors, applied with the Ethics Commission for waivers to serve as the executive director of the newly formed Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero Hill Green Benefit District. The community benefit district, which she voted to approve when on the board, captures property taxes in the area and invests them on area improvements like park space.
Local ethics laws require a “cooling off” period of one year when a board member exits office. During that one year, the person cannot be hired by an entity contracting with The City nor can that person communicate with board members or other city departments. The intent is to prevent undue influence.
But the law also allows for waivers.
Ethics Commission Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham recommended in a memo to the commission the denial of waivers related to communication, arguing this is meant to be strictly enforced, but approval of the waiver for employment based on previous waivers granted. However, Christensen pleaded her case successfully and the commission unanimously granted all the waivers Monday evening.
“Being able to take the position and not being able to communicate with The City basically renders me a non-candidate,” Christensen told the commission. “Why would they select someone who is muzzled for half a year just when they are trying to get off the ground?”
Commission Chair Paul Renne said he was “reluctant to grant waivers” and that the rules are in place to prevent “an elected official, walking out of office and the next day advocating their colleagues for something.”
But commissioner Peter Keane countered that he was “convinced“ Christensen should get the waivers. Keane argued that Christensen’s situation was far different than if one would ““become a lobbyist, work for developers, be involved in all sorts of big money deals and be able to use their influence”
The commission had to determine that in waiving the restrictions there is no “potential for undue influence or unfair advantage” and if the restriction “would cause extreme hardship for the individual” by considering such things as other efforts to find employment and if the restriction creates a “financial hardship” for Christensen.
Christensen, a product appearance consultant for companies like KitchenAid and Whirlpool, was unseated from the Board of Supervisors in the November election by Aaron Peskin, who held the seat previously between 2001 and 2009. She had served for 11 months.
In making her case for financial hardship, Christensen said in her letter to the Ethics Commission that in accepting the board appointment “I had to close my design practice and lost significant opportunities as a result.”
“Because of regime and staffing changes by my two major clients while I was serving on the board, I am unable to regain work with those key companies,” she said in her letter.
Christensen also said that she made a choice when accepting the appointment to “redirect my career focus to the public sector.”